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“While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven.” —Luke 24:51

African American Congregational Support
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Shontá M. Darling
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Our heritage and hope


Do not speak evil against one another, brothers and sisters.  Whoever speaks evil against another or judges another, speaks evil against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one lawgiver and judge who is able to save and to destroy. So who, then, are you to judge your neighbor?

(James. 4:11-12)

If you have a hope or heritage that you would like to see please contact or call 502-569-5089

Messengers of truth and conviction



My first continuing education event this year was the Proctor Conference held at the Intercontinental Hotel in Dallas, TX  February 18-21.  And what a conference it was!  The conference theme and theme scripture were , respectively, "Living Waters: Unearthing Global Power of Justice" and "Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, "Out of their heart will flow rivers of living water."  John 7:38

The opening worship was held at the Friendship West Baptist Church, Rev. Dr. Frederick Douglas Haynes, pastor and chairman of the Proctor board of trustees.  Rev. Dr. Allan Boesak, renowned South African theologian and pastor, set the house on fire with a powerful message from Matthew 5:1-12 titled "Where Are Your Wounds?"  His thesis was that when we appear before Jesus for the final judgment the Lord will be looking for our wounds that were sustained from fighting the good fight.  Feeling pity for the poor, dispossessed, oppressed, and marginalized is not enough...we must partner with and stand in solidarity them to correct the systemic conditions and injustice that cause their misery. He was followed by Rev. Dr. Gina Stewart, Pastor of Christ Missionary Baptist Church in Memphis, TN and Proctor trustee.  She poured gasoline on the fire set by Dr. Boesak and brought it to a towering inferno with a riveting message from Judges 19 titled "When There Is No King In Israel." Judges 19, referred to  by womanist scholars as a "text of terror", tells the story of the rape and mutilation of Levi's concubine.  Her antithesis was that this is what happens when there is no leadership, no one to set boundaries and some sense of proper and edifying behavior.  Although there is no good news in the text per se, Dr. Stewart cogently argued her thesis that we have to rewrite the narrative for future generations; that judges 19 is not the only story in the Bible and we have to partner with God to write a write a different type of narrative where the atrocities of Judges 19 are not even a possibility... one that runs from Genesis to Revelation, and God is still working it out in our day and time and will ultimately have the last word!

I attended three workshops:

1. Empowering and Mobilizing Youth in the Age of Hip Hop and the New Jim Crow
2. Using Social Media and the Arts for a New Way Forward
3. Bringing a Just Solution to the Israeli/Palestinian Conflict. 
The depth and breadth and applicability of the information presented in these workshops was inspiring and uplifting.  Given our challenge here at Fellowship  with reaching the Hip Hop generation I hope I have gleaned something that will help us meet that challenge.

I invite the disciples of Fellowship to join me next year in Dallas for this conference, February 17 - 20.

People In Presbyterian History

John Chavis

John Chavis was born free in either 1762 or 63.  His birthplace is somewhat uncertain with one source reporting it to be in the Bear Swamp District of Granville District, Colony of North Carolina.  Apparently, he may have been indentured as a servant of Halifax (NC) lawyer James Milner, a Presbyterian.  Chavis is listed in a 1773 inventory of Miner's estate. The Presbytery of Lexington (Virginia) licensed Jophn Chavis as Preacher on November 19, 1800 -- making him the first Black Ordained Presbyterian Minister in America.

John Chavis preached in parts of Virginia and North Carolina. He settled in Raleigh and opened a school around 1807 or 08.  On August 26,1808, the Raleight (N.C.) Register ran an ad from Presbyterian educator, minister and free black John Chavis announcing the separation of his classical education school into a Day School for whites and Evening School for Black children.  Since its start around 1807 or 08, the school had been integrated up to this point.

Darius Leander & Vera Poe Swann -- Missionaries & Teachers

Vera and Lee both grew up in the segregated South: Vera in South Carolina and Lee in Virginia. This essential fact has influenced their views of life and faith, and helped shape their lives of faith. Following Emancipation, most African Americans wanted more than anything else to learn how to read and write. (Recall that most Southern States before the Civil War had laws forbidding teaching slaves to read and write.) White missionaries from the North actually established dozens of schools for the newly freed black men and women.

Lee was the first African-American missionary in China and taught English and the Bible at the University of Nanking for three years before returning to the United States in 1952.

In June 1952, Lee and Vera were married and immediately became candidates for appointment as career missionaries to India.  This appointment was in response to ta request from Ewing Christian College, Allahabad, for “outstanding American Negro Christian Leaders” to work with students on the Allahabad campus. During their first term, Mr. Swann was teaching English, director of religious education, chaplain and counselor to students.  Mrs. Swann taught Bible in the College; helped organize the Jumna Basic Christian School for children of primary school age in Allahabad; assisted in establishing a home for vagrant children who were picked up from city railway stations and jails.

During a second term in India, extending from 1954 – 1964, they concentrated major efforts in developing a program of Christian Drama in the churches and schools of northern India.  At the same time, both Mr. and Mrs. Swann gave part-time assistance in different phases of the work at Ewing Christian College. The drama program was designed to help the Christian Church in India draw upon it own culture and religious heritage and to utilize resources in its own tradition for interpreting the Christian faith and communicating the Gospel. This included working with individuals and groups in writing and producing plays, experimenting with adaptations of the classical dance and music of India, conducting workshops for writers and directors and developing a reference and lending library of plays and books dealing with the technical aspects of play production. This was a far-reaching innovation, not only in the schools, churches and villages of India, but also in the concept of mission as identification with the aspirations of people.

Lee and Vera came to recognize that the struggle for a non-segregated society in the United
States was an integral dimension of Christian faith and witness. In 1965, they asked
for a three-year leave from their mission appointment so that they could intentionally
participate in the struggle against racial segregation and discrimination.

Lee and Vera understood that the movement for civil rights had an undeniable impact
on the unity and authentic witness of the Christian Church. Their work for civil rights did not end with the Supreme Court decision in 1971. In 1971-72, Lee initiated the move for a Minority Affairs Program at George Mason University and taught theater there. Vera was involved
in organizing women who worked as domestic servants into “Domestics United.”

While teaching in Charlotte in the mid-1960s, Lee and Vera became the plaintiffs in the landmark Supreme Court case Swann vs. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education. 
The Swanns, having recently returned from missionary work in India, initiated the suit in 1965 when their six-year old son, James, was denied admission to the local elementary
school on the basis of race.

As a result of that suit, in 1969, a federal judge issued an order effectively desegregating Charlotte’s schools. In 1971, the Supreme Court upheld the ruling in a 9-0 verdict. This case
opened the way for busing to be used as a means for desegregating public schools not only in Charlotte, but throughout the South.

Returning to Burke in October 2005, Lee became a BPC Pastoral Associate and has served since that time. Lee has been a man of many careers, having worked widely in both the church and in academia. He is Professor Emeritus of the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, and has also taught at both Johnson C. Smith Seminary in Charlotte, North Carolina and George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.  Rev. Dr. Darius Lee Swann officially retired as Pastoral Associate at Burke Presbyterian Church (BPC) in October 2011.

Lee was educated at Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, North Carolina, at Union Theological Seminary in New York, and at the University of Hawaii. From 1948 to 1964, Lee served as an educational missionary to China and India under the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).  During Lee’s years in China, Vera completed her undergraduate years and graduated from Johnson C. Smith College and began teaching Bible in the public schools of High Point, NC.

Vera has held responsible positions at many levels of the church. For example, she has
served as Vice-President of the Board of Trustees of Johnson C. Smith Theological
Seminary and as Moderator of National Black Presbyterian Women. She is a past
president of the Greater Atlanta Presbytery National Black Presbyterian Caucus. Vera
has also been involved with women’s programs in the National Capital Presbytery.

The contributions of Lee and Vera as individuals committed to social justice are
widely recognized.

 Emily V Gibbes

Upon graduation from Hunter College in 1937, Emily Gibbes looked forward to continuing her graduate studies in biology at Columbia University. 

She grew up in Harlem, attended Wadleigh High School and she felt the force of the rising expectations which had sparked the revised agenda of the “New Negro” in the decade of mid-1920s and 1930s.  A significant part of her heritage was the intellectual and cultural impact of the “Negro Renaissance”, the economic struggle with absentee landlords and business men in Harlem and the groundswell of political awareness which was to increase the black presence in City Hall, the State Legislature and the U.S. Congress.

Emily was baptized by William Lloyd Imes and became a member of St. James Presbyterian Church in New York City.  Her years in the young people’s program of the church, as Sunday school teacher, and then as superintendent of the Sunday school laid the foundation for the choice that she made for the investment of her life.  Her participation in Northfield Girls conferences as both delegate and leader and her involvement in the work of the New York City Mission Society with underprivileged children at Camp Minisink expanded still further her understanding of human need and quickened her desire to respond. 

 As she looked out upon her world in the year of her graduation from Hunter College, she might well have used the catchwords popularized so recently, “I am young, talented and black.” At that time these were occupational hazards in both the church and within society.  By a strange combination of circumstances, her first job was as a private secretary to Mrs. Genevieve Earle, the first woman elected to the New York City Council.  Emily remained as Mrs. Earle’s private secretary for seven years.

 Miss Gibbes was invited to engage in a four months leadership-training program with women in the churches of India and Pakistan.  In 1966, she assisted with a four months study project of Church Women United with three international and interracial teams of women working and visiting with women in East, West and South Africa.  From February 1969 to December 1972, she worked with the churches of Kenya, the Cameroun and Ethiopia as an ecumenical fraternal worker of the United Presbyterian Commission on Ecumenical Mission and Relations.  During one of these years, she taught a course in Christian Education at St. Paul’s Theological College in Limuru, Kenya.

 The principal tenet of her ministry is that God guides her life and that she must spend much time trying to hear what God is saying.  One day in late August, she looked through the window of her office on the seventh floor of the Interchurch Center, across the Hudson River toward the New Jersey Palisades and said quietly, “ I enjoy my work in the church so much that if I were rich, I would do it without a salary.”  She continues to listen and to give her best to God and his people

The Emily V. Gibbes Scholarship was established by friends of Emily Gibbes to honor Dr. Gibbes’ courageous leadership and role-modeling for Black Christian women. The award is given annually to Black female students who demonstrate unusual leadership potential.

MS. EMILY V. GIBBES, director of the National Council
of Churches' Division of Education and Ministry, stated that it was important that Protestant educators understand and learn to interpret the Jewish experience, even as they were struggling to deal more adequately with racial and women's issues in the churches' curriculum. The REV. BOARDMAN KATHAN, General Secretary of the Religious Education Association, urged his fellow Protestant Christians to "go further “in incorporating Israel, the Nazi Holocaust and Jewish Biblical teaching into Protestant religious curriculum.

Conscious identification with Africa

The First African American Presbyterian congregation was founded in 1807 and named First African Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Beginning with First African, there has been an intentional institutional, self-conscious identification with Africa.

The Rev. William Henry Sheppard went to the Belgian Congo in 1890 and was later joined by Lucy Gantt Sheppard. The son of a former slave, together with the son of a former slaveholder named Samuel Lapsley, established the first mission station in what was then the Congo: the American Presbyterian Mission in the Congo. Sheppard’s missionary activities and gifts were extended in opposition to an exposure of the horrible and unjust acts that the Belgians committed against rubber workers. He was recognized in Brussels and London, and honored for his discoveries by being made a fellow in Fellowship of the Royal Geographic Society in London.

Symbol: Funtunfunefu Denkyemfunefu - democracy, unity in diversity

Maria Fearing heard the call to missionary work in the Congo through William Sheppard in 1894. At age 56 she sold her small home to pay for travel to Luebo in the Congo, where she established the Pantops Home for girls. During her twenty years of service she returned twice to the United States. When she died at the age of 99 her will stipulated that her assets be sent to the mission in Luebo. Dr. and Mrs. Leander Swann have established the Maria Fearing Fund for African and African American Partnerships in Mission. At the Maria Fearing Fund breakfast during the National Black Presbyterian Caucus (NBPC) conference in July 2003, Mr. Kadishi Leonard Ilunga, a Presbyterian from the Democratic Republic of Congro, was introduced. He learned of the work of “Mama Fearing” from his parents when he was growing up in the Congo. He is now organizing an immigrant congregation in New York City.

The Rev. James H. Robinson founded Operation Crossroads Africa, thought by many to be the inspiration for the Peace Corps. Crossroaders embody an indomitable sense of mission, alleviation of human misery, response to a variety of human needs in many parts of the world, and ministry that sets people free. These “pick and shovel” Samaritans built bridges, roads, and homes in remote villages in Africa.

The legacy will continue. The words of the late Frank T. Wilson lead us into the future. “Black Presbyterians move to a continuing place of participation and representation.”


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